Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
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I volunteer much of my free time to the cause of restorative justice, which is based on the belief that everyone makes mistakes and everyone can change. We volunteers promise that all our discussions with incarcerated offenders will be confidential. I live in a small town, where it is difficult to keep anything confidential, but we manage by reminding ourselves what confidentiality means to offenders who want to make better choices in the future. Sy Safransky’s fundraising letter [“Friend of The Sun,” March 2008], about recycling an entire print run of the magazine to protect a death-row inmate’s identity, is a lesson in restorative justice.
The restorative process also helps offenders — which, to some extent, means all of us — to identify the harm they have done, to be accountable for that harm, and to heal it as much as possible. In its decision-making process regarding one inmate’s rights and safety, The Sun followed those steps admirably.
Thank you for your decision to reprint eighty thousand copies of The Sun due to a small, yet enormous, typo. I’m the mother of an inmate in a maximum-security prison, and my son’s privacy is paramount to his safety.
He tells me in his letters of the senseless brutality of gangs in prison. Even though he has been in solitary for six years, he still gets harassed by gang members. He cannot separate totally from the gang system, he says, or he would be killed.
I think you may have saved that inmate’s life by removing his name from his Readers Write contribution. I have given my son a subscription to The Sun for his last three birthdays, and he plans to send something to Readers Write himself. I’m sure it will be anonymous.
Five years ago I left a high-paying position in corporate law and took an 80 percent pay cut to join the staff of the Hunger Project as a full-time fundraiser. I love my work — which I don’t even think of as “work” but simply as a vehicle for expressing my hopes for the world.
Courtney E. Martin’s essay “The Jar of Coins” [March 2008] vividly illustrates the day-to-day questions we face when we try to make a difference: Will my actions be patronizing or counterproductive? Do people need or want my help? How can I “empower” them to be self-reliant — and what does that mean, anyway?
None of us has the answers. Still I admire Martin for not only asking the questions but taking the risk of living them.
Please don’t do what letter writer Stephen Adams suggests in the March 2008 Correspondence. Color photographs would make you like every other magazine out there. Like Adams, I don’t read Sparrow, almost never finish an interview, and skim a good deal of the privileged white angst in your pages. But I sometimes feel I couldn’t live without Poe Ballantine, one of the “frequent contributors” Adams presumably would expunge. The Sun is like the flawed, familiar face of a loved one. Don’t put it under the knife!
I was delighted to read Derrick Jensen’s interview with Paul Stamets [“Going Underground,” February 2008], about the seemingly intelligent behavior of fungi. I took a college course on forest pest management, in which I was taught that fungi attack trees. Later some ecology professors dubbed fungi mere “decomposers.” I was riveted by Stamets’s research on these magnificent life-forms. I didn’t think I could respect nature more than I already did, but I was wrong.
Krista Bremer’s essay on circumcision, “The First Cut” [February 2008], resonated strongly with me. I gave birth to my only child, a son, in the winter of 2000. I had done extensive research on circumcision and learned that, from a medical standpoint, it’s rarely necessary, and that uncircumcised penises are as unhygienic as ears and feet. My ex preferred to have it done, but with seven months of pregnancy hormones coursing through my veins, I put my index finger to his nose and said sharply, “If you even think of cutting my baby, your throat will be next.”
Needless to say, my son, who is now almost eight, remains uncut. He is not an oddity. His pediatrician informed me that he sees more and more uncut boys these days.
Ironically, my staunchest supporter turned out to be my former mother-in-law. On most fronts, she and I never saw eye to eye, so I was shocked when she said she’d felt circumcision was wrong ever since my ex had been taken from her for the procedure and she’d heard him screaming down the hall. She’d wanted to leave her other boys uncircumcised, but it hadn’t been an option in her day. “Good for you for saying no,” she told me.
I was surprised by the normally levelheaded Krista Bremer’s misleading attempt to justify her husband Ismail’s circumcision of their son. Contrary to Bremer’s suggestion, her son, having lost his foreskin, is by definition no longer “intact.”
Why did Ismail, who rejected virtually all other trappings of his Muslim religion, nevertheless insist on cutting his newborn son? Why forcibly mark his boy with a sign of his religion when the son may turn out to be as freethinking as his father and move even farther away from Islam?
Circumcision amputates functional tissue serving three critical functions: immunological (helps defend the body against infection), protective (safeguards the glans and the rest of the penis), and erogenous. Yet circumcision continues to be the most common surgical operation performed on males in this country, and the only procedure performed on children without medical justification.
I read with dismay the heartfelt but clearly slanted article by Krista Bremer about circumcising her infant son. As a Jewish mother of a boy, I too was very anxious about circumcision. All the male relatives in our family were circumcised, so my husband and I were pretty much committed to the procedure. Yet I read everything I could about it.
Here are some important facts Bremer did not mention: Boys who are not circumcised have a 400 percent greater risk of recurrent bladder and kidney infections in early childhood. Eighty-five percent of women surveyed said they would not have oral sex with a man who is not circumcised. Circumcision is a first defense against the transmission of several STDs, most notably human papillomavirus and other viruses — including HIV — that have serious long-term effects. Women who sleep exclusively with circumcised men have uterine-cancer rates almost as low as celibate nuns. And only uncircumcised men can develop penile cancer.
My own son cried for only a few seconds after the surgery. It was a quick procedure that appeared much less frightening for him than the prick of his heel for a blood test earlier that week. I’m surprised that in her “thorough search of the Internet” Bremer did not turn up a more balanced picture of male circumcision.
It was difficult for me to write about my son’s circumcision — and equally difficult to read some of the letters I received in response. My intention for this essay was not to rationalize the decision my husband and I made, nor to advance an argument. Rather, I wanted to explore the dynamics of my marriage, the role of ancient tradition in a modern context, and the ways our histories haunt our present. Parents face countless hard choices — whether to immunize their children, whom to entrust with their care, when to grant them freedom — and I’m interested in how we find peace with the choices we’ve made and with our fallibility as parents.
When I read The Sun, I’m amazed by all the bashing of conservatives. To judge by the comments in your pages, one would think that every Republican in America is a filthy-rich, tundra-crushing, strip-mining misogynist and gay basher. Where is the Left’s much-vaunted understanding, compassion, and diversity?
Conservatives represent just as broad a spectrum as liberals. You will find them in doctors’ whites, farmers’ overalls, and soldiers’ uniforms. They are white, black, Latino, and Asian; male and female; straight and gay; Daughters of the American Revolution and recent immigrants. It’s wrong to demonize half the country’s population because they believe government intervention is not the best solution for every problem. Conservatives value self-reliance and personal responsibility. They agree with George Washington that “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
The more control government has over our lives, the less freedom we have, because the government will always try to constrain our freedoms under the guise of “safety.” And government, once established, is frightfully difficult to dismantle.
Please stop the invective. Conservatives are not evil. Republicans are not bad.
The Nation gets me riled up, and MoveOn.org helps me turn my anger into action. The Sun, on the other hand, settles me down and grounds me. Sometimes I read an issue and feel awe for the power of expression; other times I feel compassion welling up inside me, or I rejoice in the diverse voices and experiences that you serve up. In short, The Sun helps me to feel more deeply.
The Sun’s practice of giving writers an opportunity to respond to readers who criticize their work has long struck me as unfair, because the writers always get the last word. After reading a recent Correspondence section, however, I realized that The Sun has it right. Your writers and interviewees are courageous people who present their ideas in the public square. The letter writers are in the more comfortable position of criticizing what someone else has offered. Better to give the last word to the person who takes the bigger risk.